What’s your 5-year plan? When are you getting married? When’s your first (next, third, etc) child? What are your goals in life? When are you going to do/go/buy the next best thing in your life? Really? How many expectations do we really need? We are always striving to be better, faster, bigger, have more, and do more. I am not sure about you, but that is thoroughly exhausting to me. In addition to this commanding expectation we have for ourselves, we then judge ourselves for not meeting the commanded outcome. I have to be honest; I am feeling stressed just writing these words. Let me see a raise of hands; have you done this to yourself in one form or another? It’s almost like we are living an unending game of “Simon Says.” I have never met Simon, and I don’t think I have even ever met someone named Simon, but I wish he would stop telling us all what do to.
These commands come to us in sneaky ways that appear to be motivational. They come in the form of words that many of us tend to use on a regular basis. If you have read any of my previous posts, you might already know that we place a lot of power on words. We create worlds in our minds through words. Entire life stories are displayed through the words that we speak. However, the words that we use in our minds, the quiet ones, can be even more destructive than the ones that pass through our lips. These are the words that cloak themselves in the pretense of motivational and inspiring, but secretly lead us to judge and demean ourselves.
The one word that I am going to call out by name is “Should.” Yes, it deserves to be spelt with a capital letter because this five-letter word can bring down a mood like nobody’s business. It can stop a self-congratulatory moment dead in its tracks, and it can lift up a mistake and put a neon light around it. It is a verbal equivalent of the parent of self-judgement.
Let me explain how impactful this word is to the psyche. One of the things that we naturally do in life is resist a command. If I tell you what to do and think, you would want to do the opposite. If I told you to go home and wash the dishes, you are more likely going to go home and watch something on television. If I told you to eat a salad for dinner, you might start to look for the town’s best cheesesteak. I am taking suggestions on that, by the way. What I am saying here, is that whenever we receive a command, we innately resist it.
Now that you have effectively resisted the command that you have made to yourself, then the next step is to judge yourself for doing so. The laundry that you Should have done is now not done. The frustration that you begin to feel with yourself then creeps in and takes hold. This self-judgement is not inspiring nor motivational. It is deflating and creates a downward cycle of Shoulding on yourself and then judging yourself. When this happens repeatedly, the results can lead to poor physical and mental health.
If you happen to follow the command, and do what you are telling yourself you Should do, how good do you feel then? Is the completion of the task met with, “well that’s what you Should be doing anyway”? If that is the case, then you aren’t even rewarding yourself for doing what it is that was commanded of you. Where is the win in this situation?
We do this not just with ourselves, but with our partners, children, friends, coworkers, parents, etc. We are effectively setting them up to not follow a command, leading to judgement and feeling frustrated with them. And I will ask the same question with regard to the Shoulding of others. Do you then congratulate others for doing what they Should be doing? Maybe or maybe not. Either way, this cycle of internal talk and communication with others can lead to a series of disappointments.
Now that you know how toxic the word Should can be, let’s take a look at how we can change this practice in your life.
- Being mindful is needed before any changes can be created. Be mindful of how you treat others. Your feelings and behaviors are a reflection of your internal dialog (thoughts), and beliefs. Work on making an effort to give people the benefit of the doubt, if it is warranted. This shift in giving others the benefit of the doubt lessens the use of the Should and opens the mind to other potentials as to the reasons someone acts the way that they do.
- Your use of language is your choice. What other ways can you rephrase that word in your vocabulary? Can you switch out the word Should and enter Could? Maybe try the phrase, “I would rather.” Possibly use the verbiage of, “If I do this, then I can do that.” Think about a way of wording that is more inspiring as opposed to punitive.
- Revisit what you expect from yourself and from others? If your expectations are unrealistic or if unmet expectations are being used to criticize yourself or others, then there is a need to reform your thinking.
- Journal your experiences at the end of every day. In your reflection, celebrate the efforts that you have given throughout your day as opposed to the desired results. Even though a project may not have turned out the way you desired, that doesn’t negate all of the effort and energy you invested in your work.
- If you find that your internal dialog and thoughts seem to be more out of control than you would like, thus potentially adversely affecting your mood and relationships, maybe talking to a professional would be helpful. Please feel free to contact The Center for Trauma, Stress, and Anxiety at (443) 567-7037 and we can work on it together.